• Smartphone Scanner in a foldup box - review of the Scanbox

    Ah to be digitally organised. We have all the tools at our disposal - ubiquitous cameras, free document storage services like Dropbox and Evernote. So why donít we (ok, I) keep better track of my receipts and bills, let alone the few hundred photo-lab developed images I have in a shoe-box?

    Up until now, Iíve always blamed three things: 1. Time, or the lack of it. 2. I have no scanner (good ones still cost a couple of hundred bucks, take up room on my crowded desk, and, well, Iím just biased against gadgets that only do one thing). 3. Lighting - when using a digital camera as a quick way to scan documents and old photos, its almost impossible to avoid some reflection or get even lighting.

    Then, one day about 4 months ago, a Kickstarter white knight appeared to help me overcome these issues. When posted on the crowd-funding site, ĎThe Scanboxí seemed to strike a chord with other procrastinators also, being funded at 1400% of its original goal. For me, it was particularly the Scanbox Plus model with built in LED lights that really looked like it could solve my problems. So now its arrived, how does it stack up - or more appropriately - fold up, especially at its low price point?

    Opening the Scanbox packaging made me recall Steve Jobs famous unveiling of the original Macbook Air in that it seriously fits into one A4 envelope. Once sliding it out, I was impressed by how easily the parts connected together using only magnets to securely hold the frame reasonably rigid. The clearly marked smartphone spot on top then invites you to place your device there, put something underneath in the scanning space and get started. On a side note, I did also try it with the iPad mini, which while a little precarious as it sticks out over the edge, still performed well.

    So, how does it perform? Has card, magnets and a strategically placed hole a scanner made? Iíve tested the box with a few different apps to find out - the camera app of course, Evernote with its new document/notebook scanner feature, and JotNot Pro. There are several other Ďscannerí type apps available in the app store such as CamScanner. (The advantage of these and the new Evernote option is that for documents and text, the app cleans up the scan by increasing sharpness and contrast). FYI for the purposes of this review, Iíve included an unprocessed mixed scan with image, text and 3D objects:

    And here is a zoomed in image so you can check out the text sharpness:

    (You can see the full size version - 5mb file) here.

    Firstly, I tested for text scanning. For this the setup worked well, with the LEDís in the Plus giving an even light, and the design of the box meaning that my iPhone was just the right height above the page to capture an A4 size page. When teamed with the send to Evernote feature of many scanning apps (so the image is stored and the text becomes searchable) I was more than sure that this can get me to catch up on my receipts.

    Next I tested images. This was where the obvious limitations of such a setup began to surface. As much as I would like it to be otherwise, a glossy printed photo (or even magazines - see the dark areas in the included sample image) will always show some kind of reflection or shadow when photographed. Some images I could edit later to remove most of this, but by and large unless you have matt images for scanning, the Scanbox method can not compete with a proper flat-bed scanner.

    Lastly I tested 3D images. This would be useful where you want a product image to go with an Ebay sale for instance, and is the kind of scanning where a flat-bed setup would not work. For this usage case, I found the Scanbox was very good. Iíd especially next like to try it in this mode as a document camera by using Airplay to show the view to a big screen.

    Untested by me is another potential use - Ďphotocopyingí by snapping pictures that you immediately send to a wire-less enabled printer via Airprint.

    So thats two out of three for the Scanbox by my count. There were a few concerns I had however. Firstly, even though its designed to fold up and be portable, Iím worried that regular folding of the cardboard to set it up or pack it away will cause it to lose its rigidity. I also had some issues plugging the battery in. Thereís no on/off switch, so clicking the 9 volt battery in and out is required every time you want to use it. Because I found the battery connector to be a bit fragile, Iím worried that regular use could see me damage the slim power cables. Finally, although the selection of colour stickers to decorate the top was nice, you have to choose carefully as once youíve stuck one on, it sticks fast (naturally), meaning you can only re-customise it by sticking another one on top.

    Do I recommend the Scanbox then? My answer is yes, especially for document and 3D images when you or an app can apply some contrast and sharpening. Does it rate as a high quality scanner? No. But for its price (mine cost $25 via the Kickstarter - new orders now are $35), and even as an example of ingenuity, its portability and smart design mean it could definitely find a place in your paper to digital workflow - especially if you select the Plus model that includes the LED lighting.

    Go to http://thescanbox.com for more info.

    You can read more of Jonathan's articles here at Mactalk, or at Macworld.com.au, or at his education and technology blog uLearning.edublogs.org. Follow his #EdTech and #iPadEd tweets at @jnxyz.
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